For about three hours Wednesday, Erin Clark rode the emotional rollercoaster of a lifetime.
The dog walker had three pooches with her along the Two Tanks Fire Road above West Blithedale Avenue at around 11:45 Wednesday when two of the dogs, an elderly collie and a “precocious” young lab, headed about 150 yards down the slope a bit to drink from the creek.
As they drank, the lab playfully nudged Sierra the collie, who slipped head-first into a nearby 150-foot drainage pipe on a 20 percent slope. The 36-inch diameter pipe was too small for the dog to turn around and each time she tried to back up, she slid further down, according to Battalion Chief Tom Welch.
Clark said she initially thought to try and retrieve 12-year-old Sierra herself but was advised by passers-by that it wasn’t wise and that she should call the Mill Valley Fire Department.
Rescue crews were called to the scene at around 1 p.m. and found Sierra about 40 feet into the slippery pipe.
“Each time she would work her way up about 20 feet, she’d slide back down again,” Welch said.
Rescue crews made several attempts to use a “control pole” – a long pole with a loop at the end of it supplied by the Marin Humane Society - to retrieve the dog, but were unable to do so.
“Then we made the decision to go down there and get her,” Welch said.
Ryan Tokuda, a firefighter, was among a few personnel on the scene with training in confined space rescue. He raised his hand first to go down into the pipe, strapped on protective and breathing gear in case a skittish Sierra reacted badly to his attempt, and went down the slope.
Fire personnel held two ropes secured to Tokuda to make sure he was steady and he headed into the drainage pipe.
Soon after Tokuda brought Sierra out just before 3 p.m., Clark said she gave her some cookies and she settled down and was fine.
“That was my biggest issue - she was scared and I wanted to help her,” Clark said. “I felt terrible. I’m still really shaken about it.”